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Gov. Little signs bills investing in education and Idaho's workforce

"We have a constitutional and moral obligation to prepare our students to become lifelong learners and eventual participants in our state's workforce," Little said.

BOISE, Idaho — Idaho Gov. Brad Little signed the final bills of his "Building Idaho's Future" plan into law this week, making strategic investments in education and Idaho's workforce.

"We have a constitutional and moral obligation to prepare our students to become lifelong learners and eventual participants in our state's workforce," Little said. "The goal of my 'Building Idaho's Future' plan is to use Idaho's record budget surplus to provide Idahoans historic tax relief and make strategic investments in education, transportation, broadband, water, and other critical areas to propel our state forward."

The education-related bills include:

House Bill 356 – Literacy

• $20 million to enhance literacy. The funds will be used for summer reading programs, providing support to students who fell behind in learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Senate Bill 1154 – Career Technical Education

• $3.5 million to expand and modernize secondary and post-secondary school programs to align with regional labor market needs.

• $500,000 for workforce training centers to develop and deliver content to constituents statewide.

• $750,000 for workforce training programs specific to the food processing and manufacturing industry.

House Bill 338 and Senate Bill 1214 – Colleges and Universities 

• $3 million to advance priorities from the Huron Report, which aims to improve collaboration across universities and yield savings over time.

• $2.5 million for an e-procurement system and $500,000 for the first phase of an enterprise resource planning study, which will enhance collaboration and coordination across the four-year institutions resulting in increased efficiencies.

House Bill 318 – Community Colleges

• $1 million for a zero textbook cost program at the community colleges to provide required reading materials to students at no cost.

"We, including the state board, are completely focused on improving literacy proficiency in the state," Idaho State Board of Education President Kurt Liebich said of HB 356. "The old saying goes, from kindergarten to third grade you learn to read then from 4th grade on you read to learn."

While education wasn't a smooth-sailing topic during the legislative session, valuable legislation was passed. For example, HB 318, a bill aimed at making textbooks more affordable for community college courses, was signed into law. 

"We will be working with the four community colleges to develop pathways where students will pay nothing or very low costs for textbooks," SBOE Executive Director Matt Freeman said. "We know that cost is a barrier to access and we know that books are part of that cost. So we are really excited that the Governor was willing to invest in that."

SB 1154 invests millions of dollars into career technical education and workforce training programs. The goal is to help prepare students to take on careers with growing needs in the state.

"We have significant demand for employees right now," Freeman said. "There is a lot of 'Help Wanted' signs around so this workforce training will help individuals upskill so they can take on those jobs." 

Education advocates have also been critical of how the legislature handled education topics. Lawmakers did focus a lot of attention on the subject, but the specific focus was surprising to many.

"My frustration with the legislative session, in my view, too much of the debate, sort of got sidetracked with some of the concerns around indoctrination in our K-12 system and social justice in our higher education system," Liebich said. "I just felt like the time could have been better spent really understanding the pandemic and talking about it." 

Liebich feels there are topics discussed during the session that didn't make it to the Governor's desk, but is hopeful that discussion on these issues will continue. 

"I was sort of excited to see in the legislature there was some debate about considering full-day kindergarten," he said. "That's another thing that I think could be really powerful in getting all Idaho students ready and proficient in reading by third grade." 

Heading forward, SBOE is focused on what students missed out on during pandemic learning and how those issues can be best addressed heading into next year.

"There has been learning loss and interrupted learning, we know that is true," Liebich said. "So the question is, 'How do we adjust as a system to make sure all kids are caught up?" 

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